Learning design considerations for the hybrid working environment

A recent report into the future of work stated that 87% of people surveyed would prefer to work in what is increasingly referred to as the hybrid environment (1). In short, some of the working-week in the office and some of it at home. The general consensus is that the ratio between working in an office and working at home will be 3:2 or the opposite depending on how flexible your employer is (2).

While there is obviously a trend towards working partially from home, at least for office staff, there remains a perception that people need face to face interactions and office time to further their careers (3). Bearing in mind the need people have to balance their lives better, commute less, meet people in an office, and collaborate meaningfully on projects, the question we in learning should be asking ourselves is: How can we adapt our learning offerings to best suit the environments people will work in? In other words, what it hybrid learning and how is it best deployed?

The future of learning in a hybrid world

If the future of work is to split our time between office and home then it stands to reason that we can’t do all of our training either at home or in the office. Cue the return of Blended Learning. In recent times, blended learning design has often focused on the use of technology to support classroom training. However, the concept that there is more to blended learning than simply adding an e-learning module or some video content to classroom training is beginning to take hold.

The emerging idea is that the ‘blend’ is represented by three important factors. The first is that certain types of learning are best matched to locations. The obvious examples are that classroom training is best done in the office, but self-directed learning can be done at home. The second idea is that learning is a journey spread out over time which needs to take locations and types of learning into account. And, the third idea is that technology now enables us to access learning in a smooth and efficient way anywhere. Let’s look at each in more detail.

Considerations for blended learning across the hybrid workspace

If we look at the idea of matching learning to locations first, we should think about the reasons why people want or need to go into an office. To do that we can use activities as labels for what people will do: meet, collaborate, brainstorm, discuss, analyse, etc. Taking a step back, what that means is that offices will be used for people to get together in groups (4). Therefore, it makes sense to only have training in the office when physical group interactions are essential. Examples would include, but not be limited to:

  • Searching for solutions to problems using creative or innovative techniques
  • Role-playing work-based scenarios such as discussing performance reviews
  • Practicing skills used in specific situations to get feedback from a manager

We can see from those situations that participation and the ability to look at the nuances of how people interact are really important.

On the other hand, anything that can be done alone or needs to be created as preparation for group interactions should be done at home in the digital space. Techniques that work well at home include:

  • Self-directed study – anything done at ‘your pace’
  • Flipped classroom – situations where most learning is done alone before meeting with a group
  • Guided learning – virtual sessions with an instructor who takes learners through content

What we can see immediately is that there is a clear difference between what can be done at home and what can be better done in the office. This helps us to plan learning journeys matched to locations very well, as a first step.

Next let’s look at the concept of learning journeys. To begin with, let’s think of a learning journey as both long and short – even a learning experience of just a few days can constitute a journey. Secondly, let’s commit to the idea that all learning journeys have a definitive start and end point – this is different from the concept of life-long learning. Thirdly, let’s note that the structure, pace and spacing of a journey depends on the type of learning being designed – is it mainly for knowledge transfer, skills development, habit adoption, and so on?

With those basic principles aligned to the concept of placing learning in the right location, we can begin to construct learning journeys that optimise time to make sure that learning gets accessed and used effectively, and most importantly transferred to real work.

At PTT, we’ve created some templates that demonstrate how to construct learning journeys. These templates were made before the pandemic, but it’s not too much of a stretch to place the template elements into home or office locations depending on which has the biggest impact.

You can find the templates here: PTT Design Templates

The final topic for designing hybrid learning is the use and deployment of technology. For most people this could appear to be an easy topic, especially when we think that until very recently the leading trend was that everything needed to ‘go mobile’. However, one thing the pandemic has taught us is that people aren’t mobile anymore. In fact, they are very much static to the extent that such as thing as ‘Zoom fatigue’ has emerged as a real concern of working from home.

What people don’t need is more screens to become fatigued by. Instead, as learning designers, we need to develop skills to better manage learning interactions through the digital space and knowledge of the optimal time to deploy digital-based learning. Ideally, all learning done through the digital space should be accessed at home based mainly on the concept of the flipped classroom or knowledge transfer and serve as a lead-in or follow-up to learning done in the bricks and mortar spaces.

Of course, not all training requires a deep blend of home vs office, extended learning journeys and full deployment of technology, but increasingly we are seeing that elements of all those aspects lead to the successful use of time and space and transfer of learning to work, so the ability to know the What, Where, When and How of learning has become more important than ever.

How to get started right now

The first and most urgent thing to do is to find out where your company intends to allow its workforce to work, and what split there will be between home and office. The best laid blended learning plans can come to nothing if all staff are suddenly required to come back to the office or given permission to permanently work at home. There is some evidence that this will be a collaborative decision (5), so it’s worth getting into those discussions early to understand what the decisions will be and to put your case forward for hybrid learning.

The second is to start evaluating your current learning programs. Look at the types of learning, where those learning elements are best located, and how to best position those elements into a journey. This analogue version will take time, but will be hugely influential when making budget requests for technology assets.

We hope you find this article useful. If you do, drop a comment, and good luck.

References:

1, 3. Pulse of the American survey fact sheet | March 2021 | Prudential Financial, Inc.

2, 4, 5. Survey of Return-to-Office Decision Makers Highlights Uncertain Road Ahead and Need for Increased Support for Managers | April 2021 | Reset Work

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